The SAT Gets a Makeover

Changes to the SAT launch in March 2016

Starting in March 2016, the College Board will introduce the most sweeping changes to the SAT in 10 years. 

Comparing the current and redesigned SATs is difficult, says Jonathan Chiu, PhD, national content director of high school programs at the Princeton Review. “There are a lot of similarities, but they are kind of incomparable,” he says. 

One of the most impactful changes to the SAT is the removal of the “guessing penalty,” which deducts for incorrect answers.  On the redesigned SAT, scores will be based only on correct answers; “No guessing penalty alone makes it totally different,” says Dr. Chiu.

Other major changes

In addition to eliminating the penalty for wrong answers, changes include:
• There will be two sections (Evidence- Based Reading and Writing; Math), not three, for the first time since 2005.
• The current third section, the essay, will be optional. It’s now a 50-minute section at the end of the test, rather than 25 minutes at the beginning of the test.
• The College Board will report one combined score for the first time. A maximum score for the two sections will be 1,600.
• The College Board will also provide several subscores, ranging from 1 to 15, in slices of the Reading-Writing and Math sections.
• There is a new no-calculator portion of the Math test.

Scores on the SAT have tended to closely correlate to income, says Douglas Zander, EdD, the University of Delaware’s admissions director. To help students prepare for the redesign, the College Board is providing redesigned, free online preparation materials through a partnership with the Khan Academy. “It’s an effort to have a test that’s more inclusive,” says Dr. Zander.


Content changes 

Many experts note that the new SAT is aligned with the Common Core standards. “The new SAT is based on what you’re already learning in school,” says Susan Tree, director of college counseling at Westtown School in West Chester, PA. The test will be more reading-intensive, more analysis-intensive and less a retrieval of facts, she says. It’s still a multiple-choice format, but students more often will be asked “why?”

Reading and Writing changes. “They’re still going to use vocabulary, but not in the same way,” says Rich Bernstein, regional director of Huntington Learning Centers in Cherry Hill and Turnersville, NJ. Memorizing intimidating “SAT words” is no longer required. Instead, reading comprehension receives greater testing. “Students won’t necessarily need to study anything because the answers will be right there,” says Dr. Chiu.

Math changes. The use of a calculator, or lack of it, has created consternation. “This is a real challenge for many students today,” says Dr. Chiu. Skills such as multiplication tables, fractions, decimals, long division, squares and cubes have been taught, but perhaps forgotten. “We have to rebuild skills that used to be automatic,” says Dr. Chiu. There also will be a lot less geometry on the test. 

Essay. Students will be asked how effectively the author made a point, not just to write their own opinions. “Now you are writing about someone else’s argumentative essay and analyzing their position and defense,” says Tree. “This is a monumental shift in the essay,” says Dr. Chiu, “but more like what they’re doing in English classes now.” 

Take the old or new SAT?

There are two completely different tracks of preparation for the old and new SAT. Students planning to test this winter will have the option of taking the current SAT in January 2016 or the new test in March. “It’s best to do the research now and decide which test to take,” says Dr. Chiu. Take practice tests for each test under consideration. “The test with which you feel most comfortable is probably the right test for you,” he says, “not necessarily the test with the highest score.”  

While the essay is now optional, check with colleges you’re targeting before skipping it altogether. At the University of Delaware, “we’d like to see the optional essay,” says Dr. Zander. “Of all three parts, that’s the piece that’s most predictive” of college success. 

Click here for details on changes to the SAT. 

For free test prep, visit Khan Academy.

Suzanne Koup-Larsen is a contributing writer to MetroKids.

Categories: Secondary Education, Tweens & Teens